The compound is located on the corner of calle Porro and calle Flores. That’s joint and flower street if you need help with the translation. The couple who run the place are like living breathing manifestations of the hippie ideal. They are Argentinian; in their 70s; have been together for 50 years; have a brood of children and grandchildren; and have both traveled throughout much of South America. After many years of wandering, they have now, finally, settled back on the family property and transformed it into a hostel. There are dormitories to stay in and several cabanas. There is an organic garden, a sauna, a big barbecue pit, hammocks and lots of fruit trees. Everything is homemade, hand built, and homegrown. It is, you might say, a perfect little paradise for a guy like me.
Ms. B. And I check into a room in one of the cabanas and proceed to make ourselves at home. The place is on the outskirts of a town called El Bolson which is on the western side of Argentina. The term El Bolson means pocket or bag and indeed the place is nestled into a pocket of the Andean hills. There’s a river with swimming holes a short walk away and several trails leading up into the mountains. From where we are situated, it is possible to walk and hike for days and days on an extensive network of trails.
Our first day there we head to the town center for the thrice a week arts and crafts festival. In addition to a great variety of handmade products and organic produce there is also musical entertainment and a nice collection of untidy hippies lounging around enjoying themselves in a typically hippie manner. Perhaps there is some truth to the notion of cosmic earth energies concentrating in special places like El Bolson. Or maybe it is only the idea or rumor of such things drawing great numbers of like minded people. One way or another, it’s nice to spend time in a place where alternative economics thrive. Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not communism or even socialism as far as I can tell. But the businesses are local, lots of the food is organic and quality arts and crafts are everywhere. People sometimes misunderstand me because of my harsh critiques of the evil empire. But I’m no communist, that’s for sure. Communism is as ideologically broken as capitalism. And although I have socialist tendencies, I’m not exactly a socialist either. I believe in real free markets founded on fairness and equal access to nature not fake free markets founded on capital concentration and government corruption. To my prejudiced mind and subjective perspective, monstrous and mean multinational corporations are an abomination. Thankfully, such abominations seem few and far between in El Bolson.
Of course, El Bolson is not perfect. And perhaps my view is skewed because the particular place we stayed was operated in a manner consistent with my own personal beliefs. It was less like a business you paid to serve you and more like a mini community you contribute value (money) to in exchange for temporary participation. The proprietors were organizers rather than managers. And their attitude towards others seemed to infuse the place with a laid back, easy going atmosphere. For all those people out there who believe that corporate capitalism with ruthless efficiency is the only possible or inevitable way, I’d recommend a visit to El Bolson for a healthy dose of something different.
The highlight of our stay there was our hike to the carved forest (bosque tallado) and the peak of Mount Unpronounceable. Like many times before, I promised Ms. B. an easy little day hike and dragged her along on a 14 hour 25 kilometer trek over a mountain. But alas, she did survive the endeavor and was rewarded at the end with a traditional Argentine asado. Besides, the carved forest is the kind of place that every artist should see and the views from atop the mountain were beyond spectacular.
So what is this story all about? I’m not sure. I guess it’s just an unpaid advertisement for the town of El Bolson and an awesome little hostel called El Casa de Viajero (the traveler’s house). If you ever find yourself in that part of the world, and you care about quality, kindness and atmosphere, rather than luxury, service and efficiency, I highly recommend a visit.